An organization that encourages young girls to be themselves and to be “strong, smart and bold” is being offered at Omega Elementary School in Omega.
Girls Inc. of Albany has been serving young girls in Dougherty County since 1974. They also serve girls in Terrell County and other surrounding counties. The organization has now expanded to Tift County. Girls Inc. started at Omega Elementary in 2010 through a grant from The Goizueta Foundation, says Executive Director Sherrell Alexander. She said the purpose of the grant was to do research on how to expand the program to Latino girls. Although all girls are welcome to be a part of Girls Inc., the organization's leadership saw there was a need to serve Latino girls.
Alexander said a study was done in partnership with the University of Georgia and they found Tifton had the highest concentration of Latinos in the region. This led to their implementation of the program at Omega Elementary. Currently, they serve fourth and fifth grade girls. Alexander says they hope to serve second and third grade girls by next fall. They were recently asked this spring to expand the program to J.T. Reddick School sixth grade girls, which led to a pilot program with 30 girls. They’re currently in discussion to work with Eighth Street Middle School.
Through the program, they served close to 1,500 total girls in 2012. At Omega Elementary School, they served about 210 girls, not including the many girls they touched in the community also.
“We’re small, but we’re very busy because the need is there,” Alexander said. “We’re trying to reach as many as we can.”
She said their plan is to expand further in the Tifton community at other local schools.
Nerily Lopez, school counselor at Omega Elementary, said Girls Inc. is all about empowering a girl to be a girl. According to the organization’s website, Girls Inc. inspires all girls to be strong, smart and bold through life-changing programs and experiences that help girls navigate gender, economic and social barriers. Research-based curricula, delivered by trained, mentoring professionals in a positive all-girl environment equip girls to achieve academically, lead healthy and physically active lives, manage money, navigate media messages and discover an interest in science, technology, engineering and math.
The network of local Girls Inc. nonprofit organizations serves 136,000 girls ages 6-18 annually at more than 1,400 sites in 350 cities across the United States and Canada.
The Girls Inc. movement started in New England during the Industrial Revolution as a response to the needs of a new working class — young women who had migrated from rural communities in search of newly available job opportunities in textile mills and factories. Judy Vredenburgh is president and CEO of Girls Inc. and the board of directors include First Lady Michelle Obama, honorary board chair.
Members of Girls Inc. learn and follow the “Girls’ Bill of Rights:” Girls have the right to be themselves and to resist gender stereotypes, girls have the right to express themselves with originality and enthusiasm, girls have the right to take risks, to strive freely and to take pride in success, girls have the right to accept and appreciate their bodies, girls have the right to have confidence in themselves and to be safe in the world, and girls have the right to prepare for interesting work and economic independence.
Alexander said all of their programming centers around the Girls’ Bill of Rights. They offer eight identity programs: economic literacy, operation SMART, preventing adolescent pregnancy, media literacy, friendly PEERsuasion, leadership and community action, project BOLD and sporting chance.
Organizers have seen great success with these programs. They have been able to decrease school dropout rates and increase graduation rates. They have been able to maintain a 98 percent teen pregnancy prevention rate, 100 percent graduation rate and 100 percent alcohol and drug prevention rate. Alexander noted many of their girls go on to pursue a post-secondary education.
“We’re really proud of that, and we know our program works for those girls who we serve,” Alexander said.
She also noted they pair members with strong women to see what their future will look like. She said they have paid staff, volunteers and interns. Approximately 10 people, including teachers and some volunteers from the community, are helping at Omega Elementary, Lopez said.
She and Alexander advised Omega Elementary will be offering a program this summer for girls ages 6 to 18 to participate in. The program is called Strong, Smart and Bold University (SSBU). It offers girls the opportunity to experience the summer from an university perspective. The program will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, June 3-28. Space is limited. Tuition is $150 per girl, which includes a T-shirt, university tote, local field trips, snacks and lunch — all provided by Tift County Schools.
“We’re real grateful for that,” Lopez said.
For those interested in participating in SSBU, contact Omega Elementary as soon as possible at 387-2418.
SSBU will consist of offering comprehensive, summer enrichment courses for students ages 6 to 18 years old. These courses include math, science, foreign language, athletics, dance and art.
Alexander and Lopez said Girls Inc. is a great opportunity for girls to connect with other girls and have great experiences.
For more information on Girls Inc., to volunteer or those interested in offering the program at their school, contact Alexander at 435-1897 or 869-7265, or visit www.girlsinc.org.
To contact reporter Latasha Everson, call 382-4321.